Archive for September, 2010

“An ayznban a naye” Performed by David Shear

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2010 by yiddishsong

Notes by Itzik Gottesman

“An ayznban” was sung by David Shear of New York City and recorded by me in his apartment in 1989. Shear was born in Luboml (Libivne in Yiddish), Poland. He studied in Ostrovitz, near Keltz in a Navaradok Yeshiva in the 1930s. This was a musar yeshiva and if you are not familiar with that term, I recommend you read Chaim Grade’s novel The Yeshiva as well as other works by him. This kind of yeshiva emphasized ethics in an extreme way. That the yeshiva students there would sing “An ayznban” which is an adaptation of Elyokum Zunzer’s (1836-1913) song “Lid fun ayznban” (not to be confused with his song/poem “Der ayznban”) is not that surprising, since  Zunser’s poetry often mixed parable and Jewish ethics (for more on Zunser, see the previous song in this blog “A bayshpil” which is also by him).

Elyokum Zunser

You can find the original yiddish text in The Works of Elyokum Zunser, Volume One, edited by Mordkhe Schaechter, YIVO, 1964, pages 255-258. Shear obviously forgot a rhyme in the third verse. In the original the third verse reads:
Yetveder reltse iz a sekunde
Yetveder statsye, a yor.
Yeder kasarke iz glaykh tsu a shtunde.
A poyezd iz in gantsn a dor.

Every rail is a second.
Every station is a year.
Every kasarke (?) is like an hour.
A train is like a whole generation.

The only recording I know of the song is on “Selected Songs of Eliakum Zunser” sung by Nathanial Entin, Folkways 1963.

An ayznban a naye, iz di tsayt gevorn
velkhe firt pasazhirn, say orem, say raykh.
Loyft zen dem vinder, nor alts dos bizikurn.
Vayl dus iz a mushl antkegn aykh.

A railroad train a new one, has become the time,
which carries passengers, both poor and rich.
Run see this wonder, but all this in your mind.
Because this is a parable regarding you.

Mir zitsn do in di vagonen.
Der lokomotiv iz di tsayt.
Er firt mit zikh mentshn milyonen.
Un er loyft vi mit koyln un shtrayt.

We sit her in the traincars,
the locomotive is the time.
He carries millions of people,
And he runs as with coals, and struggles.

Yeder poyazd iz a sekunde
Yede statyse iz a dor
yede psheshatke iz a shtunde
Yeder poyezd iz a yor.

Every train is a second.
Every station is a generation.
Every platform is an hour.
Every train is a year.

Deym bilet vus di haltst in tash
dus iz dayn mazl, dayn rayze-plan.
Vi tsi furn, un vus far a klas.
Dus iz bashtimt fun Got – der direktor fun ban.

The ticket that you hold in your bag/wallet;
this is your fate, your travel-plan.
Your destination, and in which class,
This is determined by God – The Train Director.

Bay di vokzaln klingt men mit a glekl.
Di konduktorn shpringen arup.
Es loyfn pasazhirn yeder mit zayn pekl.
Fil kumen tsu, un fil kumen up.

At the train stations, they ring a bell.
The conductors jump off.
Passengers run, each with his baggage,
Many come aboard, many get off.

Un az men heyst arupgeyn, to ding zikh nisht.
Khotsh di bist nisht zeyer keyn alter man.
Dayn bilet iz oys, un di veynst imzist.
Azoy iz bashtimt fun Got – der direktor fun ban.

And if they tell you to get off, don’t negotiate,
Even though you are not a very old man.
Your ticket has expired, and your crying is for naught.
So has determined God – The Train Director.


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“Vos vet zayn?” Performed by Rabbi Eli Silberstein

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2010 by yiddishsong

Notes by Joel Rubin

Rabbi Eli Silberstein (first name pronounced to rhyme with “deli”) has been the charismatic leader of the Roitman Chabad Center at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York for over twenty-five years. Silberstein comes from a long line of Hasidic scholars from Russia and can also trace his lineage to the Vilna Gaon, one of the foremost rabbis and scholars of the 18th century. He possesses a large repertoire of nigunim that he had learned as a child in Antwerp, Belgium, where he grew up in a community comprising Hasidim from a number of different dynasties, as a Yeshiva student in Israel and France, and in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York, the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Hasidim.


Photograph of Rabbi Eli Silberstein by Anastasia Chernyavsky

A noted Talmudic scholar, Silberstein is renowned for his vast knowledge of Jewish law, philosophy and kabbalah. He lectures and publishes extensively, and has developed many courses for the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Silberstein is also a ba’al menagen, a masterful singer and an acknowledged expert on Hasidic nigunim and storytelling.

Vos vet zayn? (What Will Happen?) is a cumulative folk song that Silberstein learned from an old recording of Yossele Rosenblatt (1882-1933). Silberstein grew up with the old recordings of the great cantors, especially those of Rosenblatt and Zavel Kwartin (1874-1952).

Rabbi Eli Silberstein is the featured vocalist on the new Joel Rubin Ensemble CD, The Nign of Reb Mendl: Hasidic Songs in Yiddish (Traditional Crossroads, 2010).  For more information about the CD, click here.

Field recording of Silberstein made by Rubin in Ithaca (the field recording leaves out the last verse which is included in the transcription below):

Excerpt from the Joel Rubin Ensemble CD The Nign of Reb Mendl: Hasidic Songs in Yiddish:

Zog zhe rebenyu
vos vet zayn
ven meshiakh vet kumen?
Ven meshiakh vet kumen?
veln mir makhn a sudenyu.

Tell us, rebbe,
what will happen,
when the Messiah comes?
When the Messiah comes,
we’ll make a big feast.

Vos veln mir esn oyf dem sudenyu?
Dem shoyr ha-bor, leviyasan veln mir esn
oyf dem sudenyu.

What will we eat at the feast?
The Wild Ox and Leviathan we will eat
at the feast.

Vos veln mir trinken oyf dem sudenyu?
Dem yayin ha-meshumor veln mir trinkn…
oyf dem sudenyu.

What will we drink at the feast?
Preserved wine (from the time of creation) we will drink…
at the feast.

Un ver vet uns toyre zogn oyf dem sudenyu?
Moyshe rabenyu vet uns toyre zogn…
oyf dem sudenyu.

Who will teach us Torah at the feast?
Moses the teacher will teach us Torah…
at the feast.

Un ver vet uns shpiln oyf dem sudenyu?
Dovid ha-melekh vet uns shpiln…
oyf dem sudenyu.

Who will play for us at the feast?
King David will play for us…
at the feast.

Un ver vet uns khokhme zogn oyf dem sudenyu?
Shloymoy ha-melekh vet uns khokhme zogn…
oyf dem sudenyu.

Who will tell us things of wisdom at the feast?
King Solomon will tell us things of wisdom…
at the feast.

Un ver vet tantsn oyf dem sudeynu?
Miryam ha-naviya vet uns tantsn…
oyf dem sudenyu.

Who will dance for us at the feast?
Miriam the Prophetess will dance for us…
at the feast.

“Az es shtarbt nor up dus ershte vaybele” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2010 by yiddishsong

Notes by Itzik Gottesman

The biography of the singer Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] (1893 – 1973) who grew up in Zvinyace/Zvinyetchke, Bukovina (then part of Austria-Hungary), is given in the very first post of The Yiddish Song of the Week. This week’s song is also taken from the 1954 recordings of her made by Leybl Kahn in NYC.

Formally, “Az es shtarbt nor up dus ershte vaybele” (“As Soon as the First Wife Dies”) could be considered a classic ballad. The first three verses set the stage for the dialogue between the children and their father. As a narrative though, the last verse, which is sung by the father, leaves no resolution to the hopeless situation at all. 

The melody in ballads almost always stays the same for all the verses.  However, in this song the melody changes for the dialogue verses, becoming more dramatic, as does Lifshe’s moving, mournful singing. 

Ethnographically, the song depicts the poverty of the families at this time; even a piece of bread and butter was considered a delicacy. In her memoirs Durkhgelebt a velt  LSW writes of her own cruel stepfather who would not allow her to eat bread with butter. Her mother, Taube, turned the buttered side of the bread over when the stepfather entered so he would not see it. 


Please note: The dialect of the singer is more accurately reflected in the transliteration than in the Yiddish.

Az es shtarbt nor up dus ershte vaybele
Koym hot men zi bagrubn.
heybn di shadkhunim arim dem yingn man,
arim zekh tsi yugn.

As soon as the first wife dies,
and has barely been buried.
The matchmakers start chasing
the young man.

Redt men im a vaybele,
iz zi bay im mies (?)/ or perhaps [iz du bay im menies – he finds obstacles, objections]
Redt men im a meydele,
iz zi tsiker zis.

When they try to match him with an older woman
He finds her ugly.
When they try to match hm with a girl,
He finds her sugar sweet.

Zi nemt di kinder tsvugn,
zi rayst zey oys di hor.
Zey loyfn tsum tatn, veynen un klogn.
Er tit zey nokh mer shlogn.

She starts to comb for lice
and pulls out their hair;
They run to their father, crying and moaning,
He beats them even more.

Oy futer, oy futer.
Vi iz indzer miter? Vi iz indzer miter?
Vus zi flegt indz budn,
in milekh un in piter.

Oh father, oh father.
Where is our mother?
Who used to bathe us
in milk and butter.

Oy kinder, oy kinder
Broyt mit piter vet ir esn.
Nor in ayer mamen,
mizt ir shoyn fargesn.

Oh children, oh children,
Bread and butter you will eat.
But your mother
you must now forget.

Oy futer, oy futer,
Broyt mit zalts veln mir esn,
in undzer miter‘s kushere neshome,
kenen mir nit fargesn.

Oh father, oh father
Bread and salt we will eat.
But our mother‘s kosher [pure] soul,
we will never forget.

Oy kinder, oy kinder
Az di shtif-mame vet aykh shlogn,
zolt ir nit kimen tsu mir
mit veynen un klogen.

Oh children, oh children
When the stepmother beats you,
Don‘t come to me,
with moans and cries.